Skip to comments.Self-Esteem & Character (Want to raise good persons? Stop nurturing a child’s self-esteem)
Posted on 11/30/2010 7:23:49 AM PST by SeekAndFind
By now, most people (with the exception of many psychotherapists) recognize that the self-esteem movement officially launched by California in 1986 has been at best silly, and at worst injurious to society, despite whatever small benefit it may have had to some individuals.
The movement was begun by California assemblyman John Vasconcellos. As the New York Times reported, Mr. Vasconcellos, a 53-year-old Democrat, is described by an aide as the most radical humanist in the Legislature.
In an interview at the time, Mr. Vasconcellos told me he had personally benefited from therapy. It enabled him to improve the poor self-esteem he had inherited from his childhood. He therefore concluded that improving other peoples self-esteem would greatly help society.
And so, California created its Task Force to Promote Self-esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility, whose guiding principle was to raise young peoples self-esteem in order to increase the number of socially responsible people in society.
This belief that increasing self-esteem will increase goodness in society spread through the rest of America like proverbial wildfire.
It turns out, however, that the premise was entirely misguided. There is no correlation between goodness and high self-esteem. But there is a correlation between criminality and high self-esteem.
Florida State University professor Roy Baumeister (Ph.D. psychology, Princeton University) has revealed that in a lifetime of study of violent criminals, the one characteristic nearly all these criminals share is high self-esteem.
Yes, people with high self-esteem are the ones most prone to violence.
The 1960s and 70s ushered in what I refer to as the Age of Feelings. And one of the most enduring feelings-based notions that came out of that era was that it was critically important that children feel good about themselves. High self-esteem, it was decided, should be imparted to children no matter how undeserving whenever possible. That is why boys on losing teams are given trophies, why more and more high schools have ceased naming a valedictorian (lest the other graduates feel bad about themselves), why some states have abolished winning and losing in childrens soccer games (lest those on the losing teams suffer low self-esteem), etc.
A friend of mine provided me with a perfect illustration. At a Little League baseball game, he saw a pitch thrown a few feet above the batters head. Needless to say, the batter didnt swing. But to my friends amazement, he heard both the batters father and coach yell out, Good eye!
For those who dont know baseball, it does not take a good eye not to swing at a ball thrown over ones head. It takes a functioning eye.
One result of all this has been a generation that thinks highly of itself for no good reason. Perhaps the most famous example is the survey of American high-school students and those of seven other countries. Americans came in last in mathematical ability but first in self-esteem about their mathematical ability.
But it turns out that feeling good about oneself for no good reason as destructive as that is is not the biggest problem.
Psychologist John Rosemond, a child-rearing expert, recently opened my eyes to the even more troubling problem: High self-esteem in children does not produce good character, and in fact is likely to produce a less moral individual.
This flies in the face of perhaps the deepest-held conviction among the present generation, as well as the baby boomers: that it is a parents fundamental obligation to ensure that his child has high self-esteem.
Though I always opposed undeserved self-esteem, I, too, had bought into the belief that self-esteem in children is vital. But as soon as Rosemond said what he said, I realized he was right.
And since he said that, I have analyzed the finest adults I know well. It turns out that none had high self-esteem as a child. In fact, most of them suffered as it would now be deemed from low self-esteem.
To cite one example, one of the finest human beings I have ever known an individual of extraordinary courage, integrity, and selflessness had a father who constantly berated this person as worthless and stupid.
Now, this father was, to put it mildly, a sick man. And he did indeed have a negative psychological impact on his child to this day this person has low self-esteem. But it had no negative impact on this individuals sterling character.
The more I have thought about it, the more I have put Baumeisters and Rosemonds insights together.
If Baumeister is right and violent criminals have higher self-esteem than most people, and if Rosemond is right and people who do not grow up with high self-esteem are more likely to be among the finest human beings, then society has the strongest interest in not promoting self-esteem among children. Societys sole interest should be creating people of good character, not people with high self-esteem. And good character is created by teaching self-control, not self-esteem.
Now, let me be clear. No one is recommending that parents refuse to praise, or seek to cultivate low self-image in, their children. And children should know their parents love them. But if raising a good adult is the primary task of a parent and it surely must be trying to give ones child high self-esteem is not helpful, and it can easily be counterproductive.
If you dont agree with this conclusion, do the following: Ask the finest people you know how much self-esteem they had as a child. Then ask all the narcissists you know how much their parent(s) praised them.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist.
Prager needs to come down on the side of abuse or nurture. No waffling....
More and more I think that we've been doing virtually everything wrong for the past 50 years (more, really). Probably doing it wrong on purpose, too -- witness the famous Communist Party goals of 1963.
Encourage kids to have self-confidence and self-respect, THEN things will turn out fine, while at the same time, teaching self-reliance realistically for their age.
Good post. Glad he also mentioned the need for parents to continue to love their kids. There’s got to be a way for parents to make sure their kids know they love them while still keeping them humble.
And perhaps it isn't. "Self esteem" means spit without accomplishments.
I'd rather my kids/grandkids/greatgrandkids had self-respect than self-esteem. With the former, they can earn the latter. With both, they can go far, but there will be substance behind the smile. With just the latter, they will live in a house of cards.
Now, we need to get back to letting our kids do things, accomplish real goals, and reward them with the responsibility that breeds self-respect.
“...the most radical humanist in the Legislature. ...”
N ways on the road to stupidity and this loon successfully chose two of them.....
Prager does not understand the gospel; he’s Jewish.
You did a great job posting this article. Really great. You are probably the best poster I have ever met. We should go get ice cream to celebrate your posting success.
It’s an extension of THE pernicious lie -
“people are basically good.”
No, they’re not. People without restraint are dangerous, self-serving feral savages.
Teaching CHARACTER and self-control are important.
Self-esteem only feeds the prideful entitlement nature inherent to humankind.
Self-respect is a good deal more valuable than self-esteem.
I teach my kids self-esteem. I want them to be proud of themselves where justified. They know that good behavior and honest work bring praise, and that builds their self-esteem. And they know the reverse.
The problem comes with attempting to build self-esteem even when there is no behavioral justification for the praise. That results in kids who think anything they do is okay, and that bad actions don’t have negative consequences.
“And perhaps it isn’t. “Self esteem” means spit without accomplishments.”
Nail on head.
The problem with the “self-esteem” worshipers is that these kids get a false sense of self from all the hollow praise. This sets them up for an incredible trauma when they get out into the cruel, real world.
Those are the lucky ones. Tough knocks, delusions come down hard, and then there is the absence of trust for every person involved in telling them how great they were when they weren't.
They can recover, but it's tough, and they often are filled with contempt for those who led them down the primrose path.
Others decide they 'deserve' better, and they are 'owed' that, often with a criminal outcome.
Either way, it is more destructive than pulling a kid aside and saying "you aren't very good at this. Would you like to get better?"
Kids can be fooled, but an awful lot of them won't be, they'll just think the adults are stupid.
I’m having a problem with the “humble” part. One of my kids is very well-behaved and very successful in school. She’s very proud of herself, and quite deservedly so. But that’s just her opinion of herself; she doesn’t use it to think she’s superior to other kids. She freely admits one kid in her class is better in school than her, but her response isn’t to be humble and accept that he’s better. She just decided she’ll work harder to be #1 herself. Nothing against him, she just wants to be the best.
So, while I recognize humility is a good thing, I’m wondering how much I need to try to work that in here. Her lack of humility isn’t causing any problems.
I love this post!! Love it!
I’ve always said that ONLY accomplishment builds real self esteem. What the author is talking about isn’t self esteem, actually, but self importance. Telling a child that they are wonderful because they went to school that day builds a sense in them that they are “wonderful” just how they are, without having accomplished a thing.
You are so correct, the real world will teach them lessons that we failed to teach them and they will have no armour at all.
Your daughter is EARNING her self esteem. That’s what he’s talking about.
I am constantly amazed at how perceptive kids are. One of mine didn't like Obama from the first speech she saw. I didn't bias her beforehand, she just instinctively didn't trust him. Another saw right through the BS at the school DARE anti-drug presentation. It probably helps that I purposely have built up their BS detectors over the years, trying to fool them (in funny ways of course). It's hard to fool them now.
my son played in the youth soccer league. they gave everyone some kind of medal for participation aside from the league winners trophy. this made my son look at me and say “guess we got the hey you suck but it’s ooookaaay award”.
he quit playing when he got in to jrotc. that year he earned a bunch of ribbons and an award. this year more ribbons and a huge surprise of two awards from the american legion. these are the ones he treasures and displays in his room. the participation medals from soccer? stuffed in a box under the bed.
The Tortoise and the Hare ~
A perfect lesson, it would seem.
One has humble confidence ~
The other, selfish-steam.
Kids are in the process of sorting out how everything works. They take their cues from nonverbal items like posture, vocal stress and intonation, facial expressions, nervous tics (if present). Keep in mind they are still learning language and have often not yet learned to be fooled by words. They're sharp, and they call 'em as they see them. I think I have learned almost as much from my kids and grandkids as I have taught them--and that's a bunch.